Make Custom Shirts Using DIY Vinyl Cutouts

Make kids clothes even more adorable with DIY graphics using iron-on vinyl.

Cutting your own vinyl graphics isn’t just a craft, it’s a total phenomenon that has swept the DIY world. There are lots of fancy vinyl cutting machines in stores and online to give anyone the power to create their own high-end graphics, like the Cricut Explore or the Silhouette Portrait in the $150-350 range (they’re pricy, but basically as cool as 3D printers!). But if you don’t want to spend that kind of money, don’t be discouraged – DIY vinyl detailing is easier than you might think. The options are as endless as your imagination, so let’s get down to it.

Uses for custom vinyl projects run a broad spectrum. Make wall graphics for your children’s room or nursery, apply a cheerful “Good morning, Sunshine” to your bathroom wall for the daily morning pick-me-up, label toy bins, make your own car decals, or, like me, take it as an opportunity to customize some plain t-shirts. And if you’re wondering, it even works well on ribbed materials, like this tank top.

Make custom iron-on graphics for fabric using Cricut lite, and trimming shapes by hand.

I used Cricut white iron-on vinyl in this tutorial, but there are a wide range of colors and iron-on vinyl products available – just check out your local craft store, or price shop online. If you’re looking for something different (LIKE SILVER GLITTER VINYL, OMG!) you can be sure you’ll find a great color and product for your needs.

This is my first run at creating my own vinyl graphics, which honestly just started off as an experiment to see just how easy it would be to use the product. I’m so pleased with it, and you will be too, and in the tutorial below, I added lots of little tips from my own learning curve to help you through the process. Enjoy!


Step 1

 Open GalleryUsing Cricut Iron-On Vinyl for T-shirt graphics for kids.If you’re like me, and working on fabric, choose your preferred colors of iron-on vinyl. I’ve heard good things about the Cricut product, but like I mentioned already, there are less expensive options for vinyl products too, especially if all you’re doing is free-handing your design and not needing to run it through a cutting machine. I’ll tell you right now that I really did like the finished quality of this product, the ironed graphics were really soft, flexible, and the material was easy to work with. If you’re planning to apply the vinyl graphic to something other than fabric, you’ll want to look into the other products available (like the traditional or premium vinyl for temporary applications, or for things like customized hanging signs).

Step 2

 Open GalleryUse scissors and a utility knife to cut shapes from iron-on vinyl for a custom DIY project.I think the main oversight had by crafters today is the idea that you have to have a powerful $300 machine to make wonderful graphics. Here’s proof that you can use scissors and an X-Acto blade to easily design and produce your own shapes.

There will be a shiny side, and a matte side to the vinyl when you unroll it. The matte side is what’s going to press against your fabric when you position it for ironing; the shiny side will actually peel away, leaving you with a permanent, matte graphic.

Step 3

 Open GalleryUse a ruler as a straight edge for crisp cuts when making DIY vinyl shapes.For more complex designs, I found that drawing on the shiny side of the paper with a non-permanent marker was effective at helping guide my design. (Don’t draw on the matte side, because that will be stuck behind the graphic when you iron it on, and you’ll be really sad if black marker is showing through the permanent decal!) For straight lines, I relied on a straight edge to help with cuts.

If you want to produce letters without completely free-handing them, print your letters in black ink on a piece of standard printer paper, and layer it with the vinyl material against a window for the classic letter tracing technique.

Step 4

 Open GalleryCharley Harper inspired graphics for a children's t-shirt with vinyl detailing.Quite honestly, going old school and cutting your own vinyl graphics is wonderful because you can scale and design them however you want. My design for this shirt was inspired by one of my favorite artists (Cheers to Charley Harper).

When you’re ready to iron it onto your shirt, center and lay the vinyl shiny side up.

Step 5

 Open GalleryUse pieces of paper to dispurse the heat of the iron against the vinyl when applying your DIY graphics to fabric.It’s important to create a barrier between the hot iron and the vinyl itself; in one of my tests, I allowed the vinyl to get too close to the heat, and it puckered a little bit like if you were to touch flame to a piece of plastic. The best reviews I read recommended using sheets of plain printer paper in between the iron and the vinyl (5 sheets thick worked well), and to that point, I found that the paper was transparent enough that you could start with a single sheet over the graphic (just to see through and ensure that none of your details were shifting around). Once I could tell that the graphics were held in position under one sheet of paper, I was gave the paper a quick tap with the tip of the iron (no steam!) to begin to bond the vinyl, and then laid the other 4 pieces of paper on top before ironing over it for 15 seconds to affix it completely.

For larger graphics, I found it helpful to bond the fabric and graphic in stages, and not try and do it all with one swoop of the iron.

Step 6

 Open GalleryBond the vinyl to the fabric using an iron, with the heat dispersed through 5 sheets of paper.5 pieces of paper fully covering the graphic was enough to disperse the heat and bond the vinyl to the fabric. One tip – check it after every 10 seconds or so, because iron settings can vary and if you leave it on too long you risk the vinyl over-melting… when it overheats, not only could it pucker like I explain in the previous step, but it can also bleed outside the edges of your intended design! A very big problem if you’re looking to have crisp lines.

Step 7

 Open GalleryOnce adhered, remove the transparent, shiny plastic layer from the graphic. If the colored vinyl lifts with the clear layer, continue to apply heat for a few more seconds.One easy way to tell if your iron-on transfer is bonded is to check a corner of the graphic, to see if you can easily peel up the clear plastic glossy layer. If the colored vinyl lifts, you’ll need to apply heat for another few seconds, but if it lifts easily like this, feel free to remove it completely.

Step 8

 Open GalleryMake cute kids clothes using iron-on fabric vinyl for a custom design.With the top layer of plastic lifted, the shirt is immediately ready for wear! This is so exciting, guys. The patterns I chose to do include the above leaf and a lady bug (both Charley Harper inspired, even though the lady bug also looks a little like a robot, oops), and initial tank tops for both of my daughters. The possibilities are endless! Perfect way to dress up or customize shirts for the kids or events.


1 roll of vinyl sheeting
5 sheets of white paper


X-Acto Blade

About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

More About Emily Fazio

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